Music is like big data. Why instead of sound quality you need to think about convenience

    The music industry has never been so technologically advanced. Assortment, affordability, simplicity, cheapness: in general, a paradise for a music lover. Or hell. The music industry has never irritated those who bring it the most money. Why is that? Many different people and companies, pursuing their own, sometimes diametrically opposite interests, reduced music to the status of background noise, in which there is almost no useful signal. Having in our hands a smartphone with cheap, unlimited, instant access to tens of millions of songs, we stopped appreciating music. Or didn’t they stop?

    The main idea of ​​my previous post on quality and buzzcame down to the fact that I'm not an audiophile. I am a music lover. I love music, I spend a lot of time and money on it, both on the songs themselves, and on devices and programs for listening to them. This is not a background for me. I study the history of my favorite artists, try to replenish the collection with new albums, draw inspiration and strength from music for work and life. So, in a modern world filled to the eyeballs with various technologies, it is difficult to be a music lover.

    The topic of this "complexity" I raised in a previous post, but very superficially. Despite this, the discussion in the comments came out very interesting and useful. And therefore - we will continue! What if brackets and sound quality, and cost? What if we evaluate the player, headphones, speakers and amplifier solely by how convenient it is to use them, and how well they comply with the Basic Principles of my music lover? This approach is very interesting and, alas, is not often found. I must say right away that “convenience” is not a topic for one post, but you have to start somewhere. I'll start with the very principles.

    Most people with a maximum of a hundred albums purchased on iTunes on an iPhone don't experience any problems at all. Indeed, melomania is not a universal problem, it is a rather narrow task. Actually, therefore, none of the manufacturers of devices, creators of music services and labels do not seriously deal with it. If your music library fits into a hundred or a thousand songs, you are really doing well and you can’t read on . If you, like mine, have more than 10,000 tracks, then you are my colleague.

    And the Basic Principles I have are:

    • Music should always be available. That is, at home, and at work, and on business trips. Where there is Internet, and where it is not. And even where there is no electricity. Everywhere.
    • Ability to quickly search for any album or track. Even if you have 20k tracks. Even if you do not remember the name very well.
    • Ability to create playlists according to many criteria: year of release of an album or track, genre, mood, pleasant memories, anything. These playlists should also be available anytime, anywhere.
    • A single format for storing digital music. Understanding how to transfer music to this format from any other source.
    • Conscious replenishment of the music library. There should be no questions “what is it, where did I get it from, and how did it get to me”.
    • The quality of the collection. No, I'm not talking about sound. There should be no glitches, clicks, missing tracks in the album, incorrect covers, etc. The ability to instrumentally evaluate the quality of the collection.
    • Protection of the library from loss. Backup. Ability to restore an album from its original format. Protection against accidental damage.

    Sounds like a plan? It remains to apply these Principles to three practical tasks:

    1) Devices for reproduction: for home, for the road and other listening scenarios, based on the requirements of convenience.
    a. Players, laptops and DACs (where the digit turns into electrical signals)
    b. Headphones, speakers, etc. (where the signals turn into sound waves).
    2) Creating a digital collection. The choice of storage format, software for playback, software for processing files.
    3) Manage your music library, transfer between stationary and mobile devices, backup, etc.

    The easiest way to solve these problems is if you relate to the music library, as to any large set of diverse data. The data must be cataloged, protected from loss and accidental damage (that is, to separate the test environment and production), to ensure their availability on the end devices. But these are topics for the following posts. Now let's talk about why the principles turned out to be just that. NB: the content of the post is over here, further the lyrics and the memories of the past.

    Do you remember how it all started?
    1996, I am 14 years old, I stand in the central market of a small Russian city in front of a stall with cassettes. I’ve been standing for an hour, painfully trying to choose one cassette and not lose. The assortment is huge, for a thousand items. This is a ritual: once a month I go to the stall, for some time I choose hard, and buy one cassette. A maximum of two, for more pocket money is not enough. Finally, the choice is made, I insert the cassette into the player and listen to it without a break for two weeks. Or three. And then I solemnly put it on the shelf to other tapes and listen to the new album along with all the rest of the music. In very rare cases, I don’t put it on the shelf, and this is a real disaster: I did not like the album, the money was wasted this month, and we need to get better prepared for the next approach to the stall.

    I usually serve this story with the “hard childhood, wooden toys” sauce. But in fact, this model of music was the simplest and most understandable. One format (cassette), at home you can listen to the tape recorder, for everything else there is a player. Extremely limited (budget) set of music, obviously narrower even than the contents of the stall in the province. As a result, the hundreds of tapes that I have are heard to the holes, and I know the albums by heart. And I still remember in which places of some songs my tape is jammed or there is a hole from the record button that was accidentally and not pressed at the right time. Further it will only be more difficult.

    “All albums in a new digital format”
    Lingering on cassettes, I somehow skipped a CD and immediately jumped to MP3. 2002, a brave new world: there is already the Internet and file-sharing networks, CD writers and discs, and each one can record up to 10 hours of music. But the Internet is still slow, the hard drive is small, and you won’t take many disks with you, and changing them along the way is generally inconvenient.

    There was more music, but there was more mess. There appeared collections of “The Best” - a CD-R with a hundred tracks, which was usually inserted into a portable CD-MP3 player and could not be removed until the next disc was burned. Music has become much more, but managing it has become more difficult: something at home on the computer, something only on the discs. Something on CD-RW, and this is something I accidentally erase, forgetting to rewrite. Almost all without tags. In some places the name is one, but the content is different, and there are a lot of broken files.

    No, it was a great time when I met many new directions of music for myself. Such an era of primary capital accumulation: a mess, massive violations of the law and broad, but murky prospects.

    All the music in your pocket.
    In 2004, I had my first 40GB iPod, and it was incredible. For the first time, I was given the opportunity to carry with me all the music I have. Naturally, I tried to feed the iPod accumulated at the previous stage and ran into a lot of problems. At that moment I began to buy music on CDs, studied all the nuances of copying music from discs and compressing to MP3, even tried to keep a digital copy of discs in a lossless format, but there was not enough hard drive capacity.

    At the same time, just then I asked all kinds of audiophile questions. Is MP3 quality really worse? What about vinyl? There are still some Super Audio CDs, and what is this? Do they sound inhumanly beautiful? And if so, how would it be possible to touch the world of high-end audio not only at home with a CD player and 700-ruble headphones ? In general, here, thanks to a slight increase in the budget, my passion for music has become widespread. But part of the effort went the wrong way.

    Wheels spin
    At some point, I finally believed (without much reason) in the musical advantages of vinyl, and in three years I put together a collection of thousands of records. Immediately it turned out a few interesting facts. Vinyl is very heavy and takes up a lot of space, and finding the right drive sometimes takes half an hour. Vinyl requires a special attitude: you need to find the right album, get it out of the envelope, put it, then turn it over, then remove it, then find a new one. Not always there is time and desire for this, as a result of which, at rather high costs for the collection (fortunately, it was mostly replenished for free, from people who want to get rid of trash) I listened to records a maximum of 3-4 times a month.

    Nevertheless, I still go to vinyl stores, and even specifically look for them before traveling to other cities. At the same time, I buy vinyl very rarely, more often I choose old CDs.

    In parallel, the collection of CDs and music from the network was replenished. I was experimenting hard with the digitization of vinyl, SACD and DVD-Audio formats, digital audio compression formats. At some point, frustration from all this diversity began to prevail over the pleasure of the new album. It was increasingly becoming clear that this particular album that you want to listen to right now is not at your fingertips. But he is somewhere. Perhaps you accidentally erased it when moving from Apple Lossless to MP3 and vice versa. Or maybe I recorded it on a blank and lost it. Or forgot to digitize. Or bought and forgot to listen. The situation was heating up.

    The clouds
    We are gradually getting closer to the present. At first it seemed that services such as iTunes Match and Google Play Music would solve absolutely all my problems. Imagine: uploading your diverse digital collection to the cloud and that’s all, all these gigabytes of poorly sorted wealth can be deleted. Then we buy new music only in iTunes, it is cheaper than a CD or vinyl, and is available on all devices, always! And the Google Play subscription model does not require buying anything at all: pay a lot of money once a month and listen to whatever your heart desires. Cool?

    Pretty quickly it turned out that no. And it all started with embarrassment in iTunes Match, which I call the DDT Missing Album Case. I had this album on my hard drive, and naturally it was uploaded to the Apple “cloud”. But it turned out that it was completely impossible to reproduce there. I don’t know why, it didn’t work out. Removing the album from the cloud did not help. Nothing helped. Frustration was returning.

    Then it turned out that "all the music in your smartphone" is also not quite a true statement. A long familiar situation repeated: there is your favorite album, but it is not in the cloud service. Not at all, either by subscription or by money. So you need to download to buy a disc, digitize it, fill it up in iTunes or Google Play, and on large volumes (I had more than 20 thousand tracks at that time), all this infrastructure is incredibly buggy. At all stages, from downloading songs to trying to open a list of all the tracks on the iPad, which takes about three minutes and usually ends with the application crashing.

    I have encountered albums refusing to be played many times, but this glitch only once. The screenshot shows Kate Bush’s album, and everything’s right here - both the name of the album and the names of tracks. But in some incomprehensible way when I try to play this album through Match, I get Kate Bush's _other_ album. How??! That is, iTunes Match seriously complicates the infrastructure, which leads to an increase in the number of errors. And the benefits from it are not so obvious.

    Naturally, the clouds did not help make the music accessible on the road. The rule of modern technology: just when your favorite song begins, a traffic jam happens somewhere on your mobile operator or further on the Internet, and you can’t listen to it. You have no idea how it infuriates. You can download music to your device. But not all. And you never really know what is available offline, and what - only with the Internet working. In general, I had the highest hopes for cloud technologies, and that is probably why I felt the most sincere hatred towards them.

    As a result, last year the entire digital music library was removed to the far corner of the hard drive, and I started from scratch. I digitized about 1000 CDs, registered tags for each album, uploaded the cover: this became the basis of my new collection. I also buy new music on CD (most often in stores with used records or disks), but I digitize rare and really necessary records from vinyl (not forgetting to write down tags). Another ten percent of the music library comes to music in its original digital form: I try to buy and download in a lossless format.

    Yes, first of all, I spend money on new music (rather than downloading from torrents). But not only because I want to be friends with the RIAA and record studios. Such a statement of the problem allows me to meticulously evaluate each candidate for addition to my library. Is this new album worthy? Maybe you should choose something else? New or well-known old? Do I have to buy the thirty-third re-release of Led Zeppelin's first album? Is there anything for me there? That is, in part, I returned to the state of 20 years ago, and thanks to this I get much more pleasure from music. Unless I buy not one tape a month, but 3-5 CDs or digital albums. I carefully bring all the source formats to one common one, prescribe tags, check the correctness of all the entered data by open sources. It takes a lot of time

    Is it comfortable? On the one hand, I now spend much more time processing the library. On the other hand: I do this just to make it convenient for me to listen to music. Next time I’ll write about which hardware I chose to listen to and how it meets the convenience criterion.

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    How much does your digital music library have?

    • 12.8% Less than 500 tracks 120
    • 12.5% 500-1000 tracks 117
    • 17.4% 1000-3000 tracks 163
    • 22.1% 3000-10000 tracks 206
    • 14.1% 10000-20000 tracks 132
    • 20.8% Over 20,000 tracks 194

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